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Guest post: A Double Offering

October 11, 2011

This week, we’re offering a double treat: (1) a guest post by mystery writer, Jayne Ormerod, who talks about how a wandering life has helped to form her as a writer, and (2) Chris Reardon, MWA scholarship chair, shares an opportunity.


Oh, The Places I’ve Been

By Jayne Ormerod

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!
             So begins the motivational book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go by the esteemed Dr. Seuss.

            The book was first published in 1990, years after my own graduation from high school, but if someone had given it to me I would have scoffed.  Why would anyone want to go explore that big scary world when everything I wanted/needed was right here in my small Ohio town?  I planned to live in the same area–possibly the same house–where I had grown up and raise a whole passel of children who would wear the same unflattering Orange and Black school colors and then they’d grow up and have babies of their own and live right next door to me.  In a word, I was wanderlust-less.  So even if Oh, The Places You’ll Go had been available, its encouragement to go off and see the world would have been wasted on me. 

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
            Okay, I did wander a teeny bit, about 300 miles south to college in another small Ohio town.   It was there I fell in love with a Navy ROTC man and, in complete contrast to my life’s plan, we sailed off to see the world.  None of that “live in the same house for the rest of my life” for me.  Nope.  Not even close.  Over the course of 28 ½ years we’ve had 18 home addresses and made six coast-to-coast moves (one with only 10 days notice), and we’re not done yet.   And, oh, the places I’ve been. 

            First let me just say I wouldn’t even be a writer if we hadn’t had to schlep our worldly belongings to a new place every few years.  Even though I’d begun my Navy Wife adventure armed with a degree in accounting, every time we moved to a new cityI had to start at the bottom of the food chain again.  Eventually I forsook my career to be a stay at home mom.  With not much else to do on those long lonely evenings while my husband was deployed, I did a lot of reading.  And then writing.  And finally I decided that writing was a more transportable career than accounting, and the switch became official. 

            Here’s a little secret – I’d never really wanted to be an accountant.  Ever since I’d read The Secret of the Old Clock, I’d wanted to be a writer, but my parents thought I had a better chance of supporting myself if I had a business degree.  And it did help, if only because it led me to a career as a navy spouse. And oh, how the places I’ve been have influenced my writing. 

It’s opener there
In the wide open air.
Out there things can happen
And frequently do

            My writing has benefited from living so many places because that translates to exposure to new and exciting foods. Trust me when I say, “Military spouses do potluck parties better than anyone.”   Be the occasion a BUNCO game or a Wardroom Hail and Farewell or a half-way through deployment bash, the participants always bring their best “home cooking”.  I prefer to learn about foods this way instead of watching the Food Channel because I not only see, but also smell and taste all the yummy dishes.  So instead of feeding my characters a steady 1960’s diet of meat, potatoes and Jell-O salads, they now feast on everything from Lumpia (Filipino Egg Rolls) to authentic southwestern Salsa to Kahlua Trifle.  So I’m happy, my characters are happy and the reader is happy.  And hungry. 

            My characters, as well as my readers, also benefit from the many styles of homes we have lived in.  I can write with a modicum of authority about everything from inner city apartments to aging suburban cookie-cutter neighborhoods to brand new beach side cottages to rural farmhouses or old (and possibly haunted) sprawling Victorian homes.  Yes, a writer can look at a picture to use as inspiration for a character’s living space, but I’ve actually tripped over a hump in our old plank floor causing me to fall and break my wrist and had to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for 10 in a kitchen the size of a closet and had a flock of seagulls attack the food table at an outdoor barbecue.  I’ve brought these experiences to my writing.     

            But the story element most influenced by our nomadic lifestyle is setting.  Except for one tour in Memphis,Tennessee, we have always lived within a flip-flop’s throw of the ocean.  So the beach lifestyle combined with my small town roots has shown up in every piece I’ve written.  Introducing the feel of sand between the character’s toes or the scratchy feeling when it invades a bathing suit is a great way to infuse the sense of touch.  This, in turn, draws the reader deeper into the story.  The sound of crashing waves is a universal soother.  The sight of a sunrise on the water makes everyone happy, not just John Denver.  (Oops, I think my age is showing there.)   Appealing to the reader’s five senses is the best way to help them experience what the characters are experiencing, and by engaging their seaside senses, they enjoy a vicarious trip to the beach.

            Had I not wandered far from home I imagine my stories would be full of a sameness, rather “beige” instead of colorful. Not bold, not spicy, and not worldly.  And I don’t imagine they would be the least bit entertaining. They’d be as “wanderlust-less” as my teenage self. 

            Dr. Seuss may have been talking about graduates heading off into the world, but his poem has meaning for any aspiring writer, encouraging them to go off and experience life before writing about it.  

You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So – get on your way! 

Bio:  Jayne Ormerod is the author of the recently released cozy mystery, The Blond Leading the Blond, set in a fictional small town, lakeside resort in Ohio.  More information about Jayne and her writing can be found at

OPPORTUNITY ALERT:  Chris Reardon, author of award-winning Don’t Murder Your Manuscript, and Mystery Writers of America scholarship chair, is  encouraging writers apply for the annual McCloy-MWA Scholarship. Applicants pay nothing. No membership is required. Promising writers have a good chance of receiving one of TWO scholarships of up to $500 EACH to use toward tuition and registration fees (excluding travel or accommodations) for a writing course, workshop, or series of classes held live (not online) in the US. Applicants can submit adult or young adult nonfiction, or the first 3 chapters of a novel, or 3 short stories, or a script in any mystery or suspense genre. Rules and an edress for FAQs and individual questions are posted on (click on McCloy Scholarship in the sidebar). Postmark deadline: last day in February each year.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2011 6:07 AM

    Love this post! Just goes to show that all life experiences contribute to your writing.

    • October 12, 2011 3:05 PM

      Emilie, you are so right! Many authors sit in their writing rooms and “imagine” things that go on or rely on Internet research to add a touch of realism. It’s so much better to experience things, then go to the room to write. I think that’s what Dr. Seuss wants us to do. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. October 12, 2011 9:47 AM

    I love this post — and totally agree with it — One of my favorite poets who was also a childhood friend, Jane Kenyon moved to a New Hampshire farmhouse after a lifetime in a Michigan college town – she wrote so movingly about finding a long, gray hair on the planks of the wooden kitchen floor – a hair that had probably been left there by some long ago homemaker. You really do have to experience food/setting/atmosphere to incorporate it into your writing. I love reading Jayne’s stuff!

    • October 12, 2011 3:06 PM

      Ann, I got goosebumps when I read about Jane’s experience finding that gray hair. Oh, the stories I could spin about that! You’ve set my creative wheels turning! Thanks for stopping by this morning! Jayne

  3. October 12, 2011 10:05 AM

    You are spot on, Jayne, about your life experiences influencing the magnitude of your writing. I believe that I couldn’t have been a writer in my early twenties. It was during those years that I travelled and experienced the world. Now that I’m more tied down with a husband who has a steady job and two kids to watch after, I can write and inject my books with what I’ve “lived through”. I loved this post.

    • October 12, 2011 3:11 PM

      Patricia, You are so right about not being able to write without a few miles on the car. Weaving real-life experiences into writing makes for a better story. Thanks for stopping by today!

  4. October 12, 2011 10:12 AM

    I loved reading about how moving around so much has influenced your writing. When I first started writing, I read the advice, “write what you know.” I despaired. I don’t know much, I wailed. Then, I realized that I do. We all know unique things, whether we realize it or not. Thanks for sharing you unique knowledge with us. 😀

    • October 12, 2011 3:16 PM

      Catie, you know PLENTY about stuff! I love your blog! But I agree how scary it is when they told me to “write what I know.” Thanks for stopping by!

  5. October 12, 2011 12:32 PM

    Thanks, all, for stopping by and taking time to leave a comment. I agree that Jayne has put her life experiences to good use.

  6. October 12, 2011 1:16 PM

    What a wonderful post! I did the exact opposite: Wanted to wander all over the world and have been stuck in one country for ages! But in my novels, I roam . . . loved that post, Jayne and Sandy!

    • October 12, 2011 3:18 PM

      Life never turns out the way we expect! That’s what makes it so interesting. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by today!

    • October 13, 2011 7:20 AM

      Interesting how we all find our own way, isn’t it? Beate, some time you’ll have to come by and tell us about your roaming novels.

  7. charlottemacaw permalink
    October 12, 2011 3:23 PM

    That was wonderful! You have such a flare for so many things. Next dinner for 35 you do, I’ll be thinking about that closet kitchen and those seagulls.

  8. October 12, 2011 6:43 PM

    Charlotte, I think that dinner is next week…and my current kitchen isn’t ALL that much bigger…at least if measuring in terms of usable counter space.

    Thanks for stopping by today!

  9. October 12, 2011 7:37 PM

    I love the tie-in to Dr. Seuss. Your peripatetic lifestyle seems great for a writer. I’m glad I stopped by–I’ll have to find your books now. The Blond Leading the Blond is a fun title–it sounds fun too. I enjoyed your post.

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